Liverpool’s real advantage over Man City revealed as Alisson Becker underlines value

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After 30 years of trying, Liverpool have finally won the Premier League title, and they have achieved their success in style.

Rather than crawling over the line and securing the silverware by edging out their rivals by one or two points, the Reds have established a 23-point lead over second-placed Manchester City with seven matches remaining.

Jurgen Klopp’s men are on course to break several records before the climax of the campaign, but what has been the key factor, and what has separated Liverpool and City on the pitch this season considering both teams are obviously very good?

Firstly, it’s reasonable to suggest that it’s not the attack.

Klopp is renowned for attacking football and Liverpool’s offensive game is complete enough to cause problems for any defence in world football, but City’s isn’t bad either.

The Anfield outfit have found the net 70 times this season compared to City’s 77 and beneath the surface, City also have the slight edge.

Expected Goals (xG) – which offers an insight into whether a team deserved fewer or more goals based on their shots – suggests that Pep Guardiola’s side have been roughly 13 goals better in attack, with the Manchester club expected to bag 72.2 goals so far in comparison to Liverpool’s 59.7.

Although City appear to be on a different level in that department, Liverpool’s attack in comparison to the rest of the division is also on a different level, as shown below. The two teams are far better than the rest of the league.

Which Premier League team has the best attack this season?

Which Premier League team has the best attack this season?

The high quality version of the above graphic can be viewed here.

So what about defending, then?

This is the area that Liverpool seem to excel in, although some investigating has to be done to showcase why they are so much better at preventing opponents than City.

The Reds have conceded just 21 goals, which is 12 fewer than Guardiola’s team. Considering football is a low-scoring sport, those 12 goals are likely to dramatically impact results.

However, Liverpool have only faced five fewer shots on target than City, and xG – which is a performance indicator – ranks both defences as quite similar. According to the shots they have faced, Klopp’s side have been expected to concede 30.9 goals compared to City’s 29.4.

Expected goals largely values shots based on their locations, and Liverpool and City roughly allow shots from the same locations on the pitch, hence the two defences being ranked as comparable.

Liverpool's open-play shots faced in the Premier League this season

Liverpool’s open-play shots faced in the Premier League this season

To capture the difference between the two teams, post-shot xG can be applied. This metric isn’t that different, but it also considers shot power, shot trajectory and the position of the goalkeeper amongst other aspects.

According to post-shot xG, Liverpool should have conceded roughly 24.6 goals compared to City’s 30.2, which seems a lot more accurate.

Which Premier League team has the best defence this season?

Which Premier League team has the best defence this season?

The high quality version of the above graphic can be viewed here.

So what do those numbers mean?

Essentially, although Liverpool and City face shots from similar locations, the difficulty of those shots is very different.

When the Reds face a shot inside their box, a number of Klopp’s players are likely to be within the vicinity of the ball pressurising the shooter whereas at the Etihad, shooting opportunities tend to be much more clear-cut.

When Alisson Becker faces a shot, his teammates tend to be closing down or rushing the opponent in possession whereas when Ederson is presented with a shot, it’s often a 1v1.

Manchester City concede a clear-cut shot against Wolves

Manchester City concede a clear-cut shot against Wolves

The former has saved 81.4% of the shots on target that he’s faced compared to the latter, who has saved 70.1%. Alisson’s figure ranks him top of England’s top-flight whereas Ederson’s places him 10th.

Although Klopp and Guardiola both favour proactive pressing approaches, Liverpool are more willing to retreat and soak pressure when it’s sensible to do so. City, by contrast, appear to place a greater emphasis on regaining possession immediately no matter what.

The downside to Guardiola’s defensive methods is that when City’s press is broken, opponents tend to be presented with open spaces to drive into.

Liverpool are Premier League champions

Overall, the attacks of the two teams are comfortably the best in England but Liverpool’s defence is significantly more robust, adaptable and well-rounded once analysing what is happening beneath the surface.

For Guardiola to close the gap next year, he will have to resolve City’s issue of affording clear-cut opportunities to opponents who manage to escape their initial press.

Liverpool, meanwhile, can rest assured with the understanding that they are the most complete team in England, Europe and the world, and they have the trophies to show for it.

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